A Rome trip, to watch football, that cost less than £100. This isn’t your typical culture-fuelled Italy feature. I’m out to prove a point.
Walking through the urban sprawl of the Olympic Village towards the magnificent Stadio Olimpico in Rome, at night, in the rain, doesn’t conjure the magic of Italia ’90. The 1990 World Cup in Italy was a feast of sport and Italian culture. For me, a 15-year-old football fan, the sounds of Pavarotti were alien. But Nessun Dorma still resonates today amongst football and opera fans alike, it unites class and culture. This World Cup captured a nation, nay the world, as an estimated 26 billion viewers watched. Pizza and pasta became cool and 15-year-old boys desperately wanted to be Toto Schillachi, the working class hero who won the Golden Boot with six goals.
Four of Schillachi’s goals were scored at this Olympic Stadium which burns under floodlights in the distance. It’s located in Via del Foro Italico, inside the Foro Italico complex, on the north of the city. Although easily accessible by car or public transport on this occasion we walked. Our overnight accommodation was at the highly rated bed and breakfast A Peace of Rome just 2km from the stadium (see box). The evening pilgrimage along the River Tiber, towards the stadium, with the chattering, excited Roma fans felt like a rite of passage. We were becoming united.
The 72,698 capacity venue hosts both AS Roma and Lazio, they alternate the weeks they play their home games. Tonight AS Roma, i Giallorossi, play Fiorentina in a Serie A league match. Opened in 1937 the stadium has held some of the biggest ever sporting events including the 1960 Olympic games. Whereas our English stadiums maximise profits by commercial offerings the Italians believe this is a place to watch football. So no club-shop, no restaurants or corporate facilities; quite a refreshing change. The concession stands, built into the stadium, reminded me of the way US baseball stadiums serve food: quick, cheap and easy to eat.
Security is tight so remember to carry your passport at all times. Buying tickets is easy from one of the many AS Roma shops in the city, football is still a working class sport so some tickets prices remain low for matches. If you don’t feel confident in purchasing the tickets yourself there are agents who will do this for you, but you will pay more (see box).
The carnival atmosphere hits as you walk up the stadium steps and gaze upon the green of the pitch. It is hard to convey the spectacle that plays out, the majesty of the stadium and all those worshipping within stirs the soul. Fellow supporters were welcoming, despite warnings by the uninitiated of how dangerous it could be. Songs sung, in stuttering pigeon-Italian, were helped by their repetitiveness. Fireworks exploded and the place filled with a nervous energy that overloaded the senses. The seats high in the Curva Nord afford a wonderful view and a splendid atmosphere. Seats on the side are more expensive, but very quiet, and the Curva Sud is normally sold out with frenzied season ticket holders.
A riveting five goal thriller resulted in a 3-2 win for Roma. The walk back to the hotel was much more relaxed and full of happy Romans giddy from the win. The streets offered mobile food-stands selling pizza, wine, beer and other snacks. It was very hard to resist and I’m glad we didn’t. Unlike an English match day this was refined and relaxed and done as only the Italians could do it, with class.
This trip to watch Italian football, calcio, was inspired by the high cost of the English game. With a £100 budget an Easyjet flight from Bristol to Rome Ciampino, one night at A Peace of Rome and match tickets were booked. As the football consumes the evening the rest of the trip is free to explore the Eternal City. I introduced my travelling companion, who was visiting Rome for the first time, to the Vatican City, St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum.
You will be hard pressed to find a better antithesis to the sights and sounds of Italy, Rome in particular. But this is a part of Roman life as anything else. Experience it. Wherever you are in Italy, after you’ve shopped, seen the sights, eaten, drank and relaxed why don’t you check the fixture list? Even those of you who wouldn’t give football a second look should think twice. For the Italians it really isn’t just a way of life, it’s far more important than that.
Match tickets can be purchased from a wide variety of internet ticket agencies. For a more personal approach try Pete at www.romalazio.co.uk who will personally meet you in Rome and hand over your tickets. You can also buy tickets at one of the many AS Roma shops in the city but remember you will need identification.
Where To Stay
A Peace of Rome, Bed and Breakfast
Situated on the first floor of a 19th Century palace, the recently restored apartment is located close to St. Peters Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. A Peace Of Rome is consistently voted the best B+B in Rome. The owners are very friendly and the prices very reasonable. Top tip: turn right out of the front door and go in the first coffee shop you find, Café Sciascia, it is one of the best in Rome.
Further Reading: A Season With Verona by Tim Parks. The author travels the length of Italy supporting Hellas Verona and discovering this hidden Italian football culture.